Bejiing Confidential

BEIJING CONFIDENTIAL:
A TALE OF COMRADES LOST AND FOUND, JAN WONG, Doubleday

REVIEW BY JANET NICOL

Jan Wong is the perfect insider-outsider when
it comes to explaining the homeland of her
ancestors. Her journalism for the Globe and
Mail, including coverage of the Tiananmen
Square democracy protest and massacre, and
her book Red China Blues, chronicling her
time as a fervent Maoist at Beijing University
in the early 1970s, have given readers
remarkable insights into a fascinating and
ever-evolving civilization.

Now, Wong is compelled to look back
again, this time to make amends with Yin, a
former Communist sister-in-arms living in an
unbridled capitalistic regime. Wong convinces
her husband and their two teenage sons to
spend a month in Beijing as the city prepares
for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Her story is all
about the journey, but is also about seeking
Yin, whom Wong had turned in to state
authorities for the crime of expressing a desire
to travel to the West.

Looking for Yin is like finding a needle in a
haystack. The capital alone has 16 million
people. When you consider that 40 per cent of
the population shares 10 surnames and
cellphone users change their numbers
frequently, searching for a friend from the past
seems impossible.

Remarkably, Wong does find Yin—who has
changed her name to Lu Yi—and learns about
her punishment and life after freedom.
Ultimately, Yin’s words absolve Wong of her
guilt. Wong writes, “I realize that Lu Yi
symbolizes the upheaval, the pain, and all the
cataclysmic changes that have transformed
this eternal city.”

Wong, a second-generation Chinese-
Canadian, is amazed that Yin, as well as two
other former comrades, Scarlet and Luna,
have given up successful careers to be
housewives. Wong writes, “Lu Yi seems very
happy now. But I can’t help but wonder: is this
what the revolution was all about?”

Wong’s keen observations give us the big
and small pictures of the new Beijing and its
people. She enlists her family to help, but also
maintains a caring eye for them—all part of
the modern woman’s juggling act and
something that adds another dimension to a
story that may be more about the getting of
wisdom than the making of revolution.

Reprinted from Herizons magazine, Summer, 2008.

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